Got a great script idea in your head but not sure how to condense it? That’s why you need a synopsis. But what if you don’t know how to write a synopsis?
As a writer, being able to write a movie synopsis (or one for your TV pilot) is a critical skill. Producers, execs, and agents will often want to read a synopsis before diving into the actual script. And frequently it’s the brief synopsis that convinces them to read your script in the first place.
In this article, we’ll answer, “what is a synopsis.” We’ll also give you solid film synopsis examples, and teach you how to write a synopsis with our free synopsis template.
WHAT IS A SYNOPSIS
1. When to Use a Synopsis
Whether it's an epic TV series like Game of Thrones or a rom-com that never leaves one square block in New York City, the brief synopsis has to explain it all.
And explain it quickly.
But how quickly? How long is a synopsis?
And what is a synopsis in the first place? How can you find a good film synopsis example?
We’ll answer all these questions.
Let’s start with the basics. What's a synopsis?
WHAT IS A SYNOPSIS?
A synopsis is a write-up that describes the plot and world of your story. A script synopsis can be used to sell your idea. A synopsis can also be written when providing screenplay coverage or script analysis to agents, managers, and producers.
You can write a brief synopsis or a long synopsis, depending on the goal. Usually, movie synopsis length is one page or less.
As we explore how to write a synopsis, keep in mind that the key here is brevity.
If it's too short, your movie synopsis is really a logline. If it's too long, it goes into outline or treatment territory.
A movie synopsis should explain who is the main character (or characters), what they want, and who or what stands in their way.
It should also function as a plot synopsis in that it should describe broad strokes of what the characters do in an effort to get what they want.
HOW TO WRITE A SYNOPSIS
2. Finding the Middle Ground
So how DO you differentiate your synopsis from a logline or an outline?
A good chunk of it comes down to length. Use our synopsis template to keep yours at the proper length.
Loglines barely cover two sentences. Ideally, they stay at about one.
Outlines can go upwards of five to even ten pages. And treatments can run even longer, breaching the teens.
The reason why outlines and treatments can go so long is that they’re a scene-by-scene breakdown written in prose.
An outline or treatment is obviously not a novel, but basic concepts and actions of every scene need to be covered.
When you’re writing a synopsis, you should stay to one page or less — not a word longer.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of writing a synopsis right now.
WRITING A SYNOPSIS
3. The Do's of Writing a Movie Synopsis
Learning how to write a movie synopsis isn’t rocket science.
Sure, the film synopsis for Armageddon probably mentioned rocket science, but writing a synopsis isn’t nearly as hard as landing a drill on an asteroid hurtling toward Earth.
At least it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s a list of everything you should take into account when figuring out how to write a synopsis for your project.
- Length: Keep your synopsis to one page. Anything longer than that and it defeats the point of writing a synopsis.
- Tone and Voice: Your movie synopsis should be written in the present tense, third person. Tell the story in the same tone and voice as the script.
- Characters: Make sure you introduce each character with something unique about them, whether it's a physical feature or another idiosyncrasy. The reader should know exactly who each character is, what they want, and why they want it.
- Dialogue: Should a movie synopsis include dialogue? Absolutely. Should it be whole paragraph chunks? Absolutely not. Dialogue should be included in short bursts, used as a way to add color to the characters in the plot synopsis.
- The Ending: What is a synopsis if it doesn't end? The goal here isn’t to flesh out the trailer, so don't keep any secrets when writing your movie synopsis.
These are the priority items on your "how to write a synopsis" to-do list. But to really elevate it, here are more tips to make yours stick out.
- Start with the active drive. Right off the bat, your movie synopsis should clearly explain what the main character wants and what they're doing about it.
- Establish causality. No story exists in a vacuum. So in your film synopsis, make sure the causality from one event to another is explained. Imagine that the words "therefore" and "but" are between each major plot point.
- Start big, end bigger. Your first paragraphs should really hook in the reader with a compelling introduction of your hero. The ending should be even more exciting and tie all the loose ends together.
Now, take all these tips into account and complete the exercise below. It'll strengthen your writing and give you confidence you can use:
Want to know how to write a synopsis for your movie? Practice is key. Flex your synopsis-writing muscles by choosing two films (or TV shows) that you've recently watched, or that you've always loved. Write a one-page synopsis of each project.
Don't overthink, don't second-guess, and limit yourself to one page for each title. When you've finished, compare the two. Which synopsis is stronger? Are there any points you've missed? How could they be strengthened? What works in each one, and what doesn't? Congratulations — you've got two short synopsis examples under your belt.
The best way to learn how to write a synopsis is to write a synopsis. After you complete the above exercise, you'll come into writing your own synopsis with practical experience and open eyes. As a result, the process won't be unfamiliar, and your work will be stronger.
WHAT’S A SYNOPSIS
4. The Don’ts of Writing a Film Synopsis
Now that you know how to write a synopsis, let's take a look at how to avoid common mistakes.
While there are no hard and fast rules to answer what is a synopsis, it's best to avoid the following errors when writing one:
Don’t mention too many characters. We don't need the backstory on the waitress at the bar where the two main characters talk. A brief synopsis means you have to let go of these unnecessary elements.
Don't use too much detail about plot twists and turns. If you explain what someone does and why in your movie synopsis, the twists and turns will make sense to the reader.
Don't editorialize your film synopsis. We don't need flowery, superfluous language like "in a poignant scene" or "like two star-crossed lovers." Get to the point quickly and clearly.
Don't make it a marketing tool. Writing a synopsis shouldn't be like writing a pitch deck or a creative brief. A movie synopsis should be a preview of what the story is and who's in it, that way the reader can see how you executed and wrote the story.
Don't rush to the end. As we said earlier, a brief synopsis should be your goal, but it can be hard to learn how to write a synopsis if you don't have any meat in the middle. That great ending won’t pay off if we don’t know or understand the journey to get there.
When it comes down to how to write a synopsis (and figuring what is a synopsis) the best bet is to tackle the basics of the story head-on.
Save the literary flourishes for the actual script and keep it to the meat and potatoes of the story. The goal here is to provide a brief synopsis, a basic plot synopsis.
You’ll expand and get into nuance and dialogue later, when you actually write the script.
FREE Download: Movie Synopsis Template
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HOW TO WRITE A SYNOPSIS FOR A MOVIE
5. A Synopsis Is a Summary
Let’s summarize our synopsis guidance.
How to write a synopsis comes down to a few things.
What is a synopsis?
A synopsis is a one-page write-up that explains the basic plot and world of your project. Who’s who, what’s what, and why should we care.
Who writes a movie synopsis?
Well, the writer definitely should. But also readers.
If anyone is covering an agent's or an executive's desk, they're going to break down and analyze dozens of scripts. Doing so will require writing a clear, brief synopsis for every project.
We have provided solid rules about best practices when writing a synopsis.
But even after you’ve written a good synopsis, make sure your story is structurally sound before moving into the outline, treatment, and script phases.
Using templates and techniques like story circle can help ensure any writer that the structure of their script leads to a dynamic narrative.
That way, when you start figuring out how to write a synopsis for a project, you won't have to worry about any dragging or lagging elements.
After all, no one wants to read a soggy second act. A good synopsis, written with our free template as a guide, will kickstart your storytelling process on the right foot.
How to Write Script Coverage
As you see now, synopses are mainstays on both sides of the industry — business and creative. That's a clear indicator of their importance and why you need to be able to answer the question: what is a synopsis?
More importantly, if you’re a storyteller, you need to know how to write a synopsis.
Now that we’ve given you the tools to write a synopsis, it’s time to learn how to analyze a script. Take it to the next level and find out how to write screenplay coverage like a professional industry reader.